1. Can anyone unseat Alcorn State to become SWAC champion?
Yes. The Braves were dominant in winning their first conference title in 20 years last season, beating Southern 38-24 in the championship game.
They dominated the Eastern Division, wrapping up the title in early November, and quarterback John Gibbs Jr., the Offensive MVP of the title game, returns for his senior season.
But the departure of offensive coordinator Willie Simmons to become head coach at Prairie View leaves a big void. No SWAC champion has repeated since 2002, and Alcorn will be hard-pressed to buck that trend.
2. Can Southern make it three in a row in the Western Division?
Yes, but ...
The Jaguars have won the Western Division in each of Dawson Odums’ two full seasons as head coach. They came closer to repeating as SWAC champion than most recent teams have, returning to the championship game last season after winning the 2013 league title.
But although Southern has enough talent returning on both sides of the ball to win the West again, the resurgence of Grambling and Simmons’ arrival at Prairie View might lead to a new West representative in the title game.
3. Which new coach will have the biggest impact?
Simmons’ arrival at Prairie View, which returns all-purpose standout Johntá Hebert of Glen Oaks High School, has the Panthers poised to improve.
The other first-year coach — Alabama State’s Brian Jenkins — has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. The Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser has reported that the NCAA is investigating whether Jenkins exceeded practice limitations stemming from APR probation, and previously a cloud formed over Jenkins as a result of allegations that he violated NCAA rules while coach at Bethune-Cookman.
4. Which current coach is sitting on the hottest seat?
Three incumbent coaches could find their jobs in jeopardy if things don’t go well this season.
UAPB’s Monte Coleman is the dean of SWAC coaches; he enters his eighth season, and he won the league title just three years ago. But tying for last place in the West last season likely reduced his job security.
Darrell Asberry, a native of Baton Rouge, has steered Texas Southern through APR troubles, but the Tigers have gone just 7-20 in league games in his three seasons.
Harold Jackson is in just his second season at Jackson State, but the dramatic drop-off to 3-6 in SWAC play last season after the sacking of Rick Comegy may have him wearing the shortest leash.
5. What effect will the Celebration Bowl have on the SWAC?
A good one.
The SWAC has forsaken the FCS playoffs in order to showcase its championship game, and the institution of the Celebration Bowl will bring added December exposure.
The winner of the SWAC championship game will face the winner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference on Dec. 19 in the Georgia Dome.
This event should offer a significant amount of positive exposure to the SWAC, coming on the heels of not only the SWAC title game but also the national telecast of the Southern-Grambling matchup in the Bayou Classic on Thanksgiving weekend.